There are two kinds of medication errors, and both happen way too often to sick patients in the United States.
- The first happens when the original decision about the drug is correct, but due to a mixup of communication or error down the line, the patient does not receive the intended dosage of the intended drug, at the right time and in the right way.
- The second happens when the original decision is flawed, and the doctor prescribes the wrong drug or the wrong dosage, or the wrong timing or the wrong route of administration.
Here are some statistics that give an idea of the scope of the medication error problem in this country. All of them are estimates, but they are of a gargantuan order.
- A 2006 follow-up to the well-known 1999 Institute of Medicine study (the one that estimated that as many as 98,000 patients were killed each year by medical errors) found that medication errors harm at least 1.5 million people every year. According to the study, 400,000 preventable drug-related injuries occur each year in hospitals, 800,000 in long-term care settings, and roughly 530,000 among Medicare recipients in outpatient clinics.
- An earlier study from the 1990s estimated that medication errors kill 7,000 patients a year.
- Besides the human toll, medication mistakes cost billions of dollars a year in extra medical care.
Some of the common types of medication errors include:
- Prescribing a drug the patient is allergic to.
- Prescribing a drug that conflicts with another drug the patient is already taking.
- Giving the patient a drug the patient doesn’t really need, and then the patient gets a terrible reaction like Stevens-Johnson Syndrome.
- Miscommunicating the drug order. There seems to be an infinite variety of ways this can happen: the old joke about doctors’ poor handwriting (not funny for the patient who gets hurt), an abbreviation that can mean two different drugs, misplacement of a decimal point – so the patient gets a 10 times overdose, confusion of different dosing units, and many others.
- Mislabeling a drug when it is repackaged into another unit, like an i.v. bag.
- Mis-programming the machine that dispenses intravenous drugs.
Here are five questions to ask yourself to improve your personal drug safety. If you have an elderly parent, consider answering these questions for them too. (This discussion is taken from Patrick Malone’s book, The Life You Save: Nine Steps to Finding the Best Medical Care — and Avoiding the Worst.) Read more…
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